Canoeing and Kayaking
Dip and pull, dip and pull -- the rhythm develps quickly as your little boat slices through the clear water. The river makes a sharp turn ahead, and on the horizon tree covered peaks reach for the sky. Swallows dart from nests along thebanks, zig-zaggin across the water. A black-and-white Holstein cow regards your passage nonchalantly -- munching grass on the river's edge.
These are just a few of the experiences you're likely to have on a day's canoeing excursion in Vermont, a pastoral slice of northern New England. You'll also find covered bridges to paddle under, church steeples that stand sentry in charming villages, fat brown trout for the catching, and fine country inns with cuisine worthy of a paddler's appetite. You won't find heart-stopping, canoe-crunching rapids--just enough white water to hold your attention and get you giggling with glee as you maneuver your canoe over rocks and around boulders and tree stumps. It's the perfect excursion for the whole family.
The two most popular rivers in the state for day trippers are the Lamoille in the north near Stowe and the Batten Kill in the south near Arlington. The Lamoille meanders through farmland with mountain vistas in the distance. The upper and lower sections of this river are divided by Dog's Head and Sloping Falls, where the river gathers and then bursts through a cleft in the rocks into a deep pool. Don't worry--you won't make this part of the trip by canoe, you'll take the safe path and portage (carry) the canoe around the falls.
There are many places along the river for swimming and fishing. At the take-out, ice cream is available in Jeffersonville at Jana's Cupboard. Umiak Outfitters of Stowe (802-253-2317) rents canoes, conducts guided trips for adults and children, and provides the shuttle transportation back to your car.
With a national reputation as a premier trout stream, the Batten Kill is also rapidly gaining fame as a canoeist's haven. The sparkling river drifts and tumbles alongside country lanes, past quiet meadows, through forests, and under four covered bridges as it makes it way from the heart of Vermont in the area Norman Rockwell called home to the Hudson River in New York. BattenKill Canoe of Arlington (800-421-5268) rents canoes, provides transportation shuttle, and gives guided trips. BattenKill also has teamed up with the Vermont Institute of Natural Science to offer interpretive day trips on the Batten Kill and other nearby rivers with naturalist guides.
Should you wish to extend your Vermont canoeing venture to a weekend or longer, several outfitters in the state are happy to oblige with guided trips that combine days of paddling with nights staying in some of Vermont's most celebrated country inns.
BattenKill Canoe bases its White River Safaris at the Three Stallions Inn in Randolph. From the inn, participants spend their days paddling different sections of the lively White River. BattenKill also has weekend trips in the Northeast Kingdom (Vermont's northeast corner) with paddling on the Missisquoi and Lamoille Rivers, and a fast-water trip on the Deerfield River in southern Vermont near Wilmington.
Vermont Waterways of East Hardwick (800-492-8271) has weekend and 5-day trips on the Connecticut River, the beautiful stream that forms the boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire. This is a mostly quiet river, flowing through historic villages and past broad meadows and farmlands. The gentle pace allows time to smell the wildflowers and spot ducks, otters, and other wildlife. Participant on these trips stay at early nineteenth-century inns on the New Hampshire side of the water.
Land-locked Vermont also has a "coast." The sixth largest lake in the United States, Lake Champlain provides paddlers with another option--a venue for sea kayaking. While sea kayaking (also called kayak touring) has been popular for more than a decade on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, it has only recently taken off in large inland waterways. In a touring kayak, you sit with your legs in front of you at the same level as the water so paddlers have an even more intimate "one with the water" kind of feeling than you have in a canoe. The sea kayak is designed for stability, and the double-bladed paddle helps you build up speed. Rudders, operated by foot pedals, keep you on course as you cross large bodies of water.
Vemont Waterways conducts a weekend sea kayaking program on Lake Champlain. Accommodations are at the Whitford House, a pleasant country inn, in Vergennes. With a van to haul the kayaks to any of several launch points along the lake, participants are sure to have an optimal experience no matter which way the wind is blowing. On a blustery day, paddlers can stay inside a protected bay; on a calm day you can venture across the lake to the New York side. The panoramas of the Adirondacks to the west and Green Mountains to the east are simply magnificent.
The paddling season in Vermont is April through October with the waterways and scenery changing with the seasons. Rivers are faster and wilder in the spring; in summer you'll seek out the swimming holes; and in fall smooth streams reflect the brilliant foliage for which the state is famous. You need not go with an outfitter; there are many places to launch your own boat, and for those who think that staying at inns while on a canoe trip is totally decadent, there are campgrounds. For a free guide to canoeing Vermont, contact the Vermont Department of Travel & Tourism (802-828-3236).
With so many places to paddle, it's not surprising that three canoe manufacturers call Vermont their home--Mad River Canoe Company in Waitsfield, Stowe Canoe and Snowshoe Company in Stowe, and Vermont Canoe Products in Newport. So if you don't come to Vermont with your own canoe, you may well go home with one--just another "Made in Vermont" souvenir to pack with the maple syrup.
Carolyn Rice, a free-lance writer from New Jersey, thinks most places look best from the water.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication